O2 has a track record of offering flexible working and support to employees re-entering the workplace after a career break. Now in its third year the Career Returners programme, for example, helps give men and women who have taken a career break, typically to care for their family, the confidence to return to the workplace.
In its latest move towards becoming an inclusive employer, O2 is extending paternity leave from two to 14 weeks at full pay. The policy is open to employees at head office and across its retail stores, regardless of whether they are heterosexual, same-sex or adoptive partners, or become pregnant via surrogacy.
CMO Nina Bibby explains that enhancing paternity leave felt like a “natural extension” to the company’s wider flexible culture. She also believes it was crucial to give equal rights to retail employees as they are just as “valued and important” as head office staff, while at the same time the policy is a recognition of the fact families come in all shapes and sizes.
“This seemed like the natural next step in terms of giving partners on both sides the ability and the opportunity to have quality time with their children, so it seemed like the right thing to do,” she states.
“Along with other businesses we’re competing to attract and retain the best talent, so we have to offer a range of competitive benefits and that includes the parental leave policy.”
What we hope is that people don’t feel they have to choose between having a successful career and bringing up a family.
Nina Bibby, O2
The policy was championed by chief HR officer Ann Pickering, who brought the idea to the O2 board and executive committee, which includes Bibby. It was discussed at length in consultation with legal and finance, as well as the retail teams.
Once the sign off was given, O2 announced the new policy at its three-day employee conference, which took place at the O2 arena on 19 to 21 March, where Bibby says the news received a “massive reception”.
As well as being discussed on each day of the conference, the HR team used the Workplace internal comms tool to share the news, alongside holding one-on-one sessions in each directorate to discuss eligibility and outline how the policy works.
The enhanced leave is also clearly listed on the benefits section of O2’s careers website, so prospective employees can find out more about the policy.
READ MORE: How one dad made six-week paternity leave a success
Closing the gap
O2 joins the likes of Aviva, Diageo, LinkedIn and Spotify in the list of businesses choosing to enhance their paternity leave. However, these brands remain in the minority. A 2018 study, published by Incomes Data Research, found that just 9% of the 119 organisations surveyed improve upon the statutory two-week paternity leave.
The belief at O2 is that extending parental leave can have a big impact on closing the gender pay gap. Bibby points to a Swedish study from 2010, conducted by the Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation (IFAU), which found that every month a father stays on parental leave maternal earnings increase by 6.7%.
The CMO also notes research from Canadian province Quebec, which in 2006 made paternity leave non-transferable to the mother in a bid to ensure men took their five-week paid entitlement. Research from 2015 found that since the policy was implemented the number of fathers taking parental leave has risen by 250% and men engaged in 23% more household work as a result, even after their paternity leave had ended.
Crucially, mothers in Quebec whose partners took the five-week paternity leave spent more time in paid work, more time physically in the workplace and were more likely to be full-time employed.
READ MORE: Why parental leave is not a ‘women’s only’ issue
Based on this evidence, Bibby believes extending parental leave is the first step towards levelling the playing field for men and women in the workplace, and so far the wider organisation appears to be embracing the opportunity. She is “delighted” that a father of newborn twins in the marketing department is already out on his 14-week paternity leave.
Now Bibby wants everyone working at O2 to feel empowered to balance parenthood with their careers, regardless of whether they work in-store or at head office.
“What we hope is that people don’t feel they have to choose between having a successful career and bringing up a family, because work is a big part of our lives,” says Bibby.
“We’ve got to show up as our whole selves, so we can’t ignore what’s a massive part of people’s lives which is their families and we don’t want people to have to choose between them.”
She explains that O2 has realised the way people make their life work is evolving and therefore the business has to evolve with them if it wants to be an inclusive employer, committed to closing the gender pay gap.